Pay Attention to a Disproportionate Response

My wonderful father, a man with tremendous insight into people’s character, used to tell our family a rule of psychology.  It has probably been noticed and been around for a long time, but since he brought it to our attention, I’ll give him all the credit.  I think we used to call this Gold’s Rule, in honor of the Gold family (my family, thank you), though I may be confused with that other Gold’s Rule, “Whoever has the gold, makes the rules.”

It went much as follows: a disproportionate response was a fantastic indicator of lying on the part of the responder.  If asked, “Did you do this?”  The answer is often given as “No, I didn’t do that.”  But every once in a while, the response would come back as “How dare you accuse me of such a thing!” or “I am offended you even suggest I did that!”  These responses are almost certain to come from a guilty party.  Not knowing the answer to such a question, but asking two people about it, bet against the one with the over-the-top reaction to the suggestion of their guilt.


In addition, I would add that facts are facts and science is science.  Facts and science do not change based on who is doing a study or who is asking a question.  Methods used matter, but the source of the information does not. 

If a terrible person comes up with a scientific discovery, it is no less valid than that of a living saint.  It can either be reproduced or it can’t.  If Galileo was a bastard who watered down drinks when he bar tended (I made that up), it doesn’t mean he was wrong about the relationship between the Earth and the Sun.  Fritz Haber, one of the most successful scientists at developing poison gas for Germany to use in WWI, was also the discoverer of how to synthesize ammonia, without which our farming could not support (literally) billions alive today.  Haber’s process for ammonia is not a minor discovery due to the fact that he was a cretin.

And so, we come to the news today.  A brand spankin’ new study says, according to the article on it, “biofuels made with corn residue release 7 percent more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline.”  This is in direct contradiction to a 2012 study stating that these same biofuels are 95% better on greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline.  I haven’t read either study, only the AP press release on it.  But the article has the response included in it.  It is no surprise that the biofuel industry is going after the study as invalid for a number of reasons, and this response by a billion dollar industry makes sense.  This is not a disproportionate response.  I will not attempt to argue who is right or wrong.

It is the government response that makes one scratch their head.  The study was funded by the federal government and was published in a peer review journal, much like many such studies the government funds all the time.  Since the study was just released, it is a bit early for the government to jump in with an opinion.  Keep in mind, no government or bureaucracy moves quickly, ever, yet this response came the same day as the AP report of the news.  A measured response would be, “We will look into this study and review its significance.  As this contradicts other studies and has new information not published prior, we need to understand why these differences occurred.”

Instead, an EPA spokesman said it “does not provide useful information relevant to the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn stover ethanol.”  That was a quick response.  The research was immediately criticized by the administration as flawed.  Too fast for my taste.  NO useful information?  None at all came from the study?  Hard to believe it came through the peer review process and was published at all.  Sounds a bit too much like it didn’t fit a political agenda.  Not knowing the truth of the matter, the EPA response has given me reason to question the government’s attachment to scientific truth.  Nothing wrong with disagreeing with a study.  Something very wrong with behavior out of the ordinary.


1 thought on “Pay Attention to a Disproportionate Response

  1. It has been pointed out to me by a loved relative that Shakespeare said it best (and certainly earlier than my Dad) when he said, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” She is absolutely right.

    Though the Bard may not have said it first, I have no desire to research further into the past as, hey, Shakespeare wrote it, what more do you want. And of course he did. As far as I can tell, he made every wise comment there can ever be, so all we can do is repeat his wisdom using poorer phrasing.

    But my Dad drove the point home, so for me, I’m sticking with him out of filial loyalty.

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